China has supplied approximately 1,000 metric tonnes of petroleum to Nepal in an attempt to rescue the nation, hit hard by shortages of fuel and other essential commodities for over a month now after India declared that its vehicles ferrying goods across the border into Nepal were not safe.
India has repeatedly said that the Madhesi agitation in Nepal’s Terai is ‘a political problem and needs a political solution’. Meanwhile, China has asserted that it would do everything to support Nepal’s ‘geographical integrity and sovereignty’. Such is the difference in approach of Nepal’s two immediate neighbours.
This is not the first Indian blockade but there has been a change in approach. In 1988-89 when the Rajiv Gandhi regime had imposed a blockade after Nepal decided to build a second highway to China, the latter had politely expressed its inability to send petroleum to Nepal when King Birendra had dispatched a team of his confidants with the request. This time the voluntary offer by China to supply fuel exhibits its growing interest in Nepal as India emerges in the public mind more as country ‘interfering’ in the internal affairs of the country – as in Terai.
Rajendra Mahato, a leader of the Madeshi movement has referred to China as ‘our enemy’ with his supporters burning the Chinese flag, something that China has not taken kindly. While, the Nepal government has said clearly that the agitation and blockade of checkpoints by Madhesi leaders has the open support of India, it fears that the anti-China stance of the Madhesi leaders may further complicate problems in Nepal.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to his Nepali counterpart K P Oli on Monday after an Indian was killed in firing by Nepal’s police along ‘No-Man’s land’ as Madhesi protestors tried to retake a bridge on the border. Soon after the incident, the Madhesi leaders who had held two rounds of talks on their demands for larger representation and autonomy announced that the talks had been called off. Deputy Prime Minister Kamal Thapa heading the official talks said Nepal would be able to solve its problem without outside interference. However, eminent diplomat Bhekh Bahadur Thapa says it’s now increasingly becoming a case of shadow boxing’.